Comments on Capitol Hill

These remarks were made at a Capitol Hill Briefing on 9/27/16 supporting legislation for a Financial Transaction Tax to raise revenues to invest in the unmet needs of children, at home and around the world.

For the past 20 years I have been filming child labor, trafficking, human slavery and profiteering at the expense of children. Always present, wherever we went to film, was crushing poverty. Always lacking was funding for long term solutions to lift these children up and enable them to lead normal lives. This is why I decided to make The Same Heart, a documentary about our aid system, kids in our country, and money. I hoped to find an answer to the question,

How do we create consistent sources of funding, year after year, to wage a generational war on poverty?

This is what the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals hope to achieve, an end to poverty by 2030.  But another 15-year program won't help a billion children trapped in poverty today or the 6 million who die annually from preventable disease, malnutrition and hunger or lose the American Dream to hopelessness. Their lives are happening now. So where can we find the money to help invest in a fairer and safer world for us all?

My feeling is that a financial transaction tax could be an elegantly simple solution to the problem. It is broad-based, flexible and adaptable, relatively easy to collect and hard to duck. Not a new idea - England first implemented a tax on stock transactions in the 1600's. 

This morning, I went to the U.N.'s Financial Tracking Service web site and looked at the current 2016 figures for Global Humanitarian Aid.  The United Nations has collectively asked the world for 17 billion dollars this year. Of that amount, 700 million has been committed so far, that's 4.1% of the total requested. That's all of the money pledged for food, shelter, education, sanitation, clean water. Clearly, passing the hat for aid is inadequate.

In this country almost 15 million children live in poverty and 2.5 million children experience homelessness each year. A world where one child in three lacks adequate shelter, one in five lacks clean drinking water, one in seven lacks access to health care, is a world where children live is crisis daily.  We have a full scale emergency unfolding and we need to act quickly.

I've seen the resilience and beauty of children. I've come to understand that people care about children, people work for their welfare and do good work that gets results, often with little or no financial support. When we support their efforts, raise awareness of the problems and take action, good things happen.

Here's some good things.

Since I began this work, child labor around the world has been cut by roughly a third, from 250 million to 168 million kids. Child labor in the carpet sector, where children used to be chained to looms, has been cut from one million to 250,000, and over 40 million children are in school today thanks to simple cash transfer programs, in 22 countries.

The Census Bureau reported this week that poverty in the United States is falling and that wages are rising. Good jobs, with a living wage, matter in any effort to end poverty.

Children live in communities, villages, neighborhoods. Investments in schools, roads, broadband, clean water, good jobs all help lift a community and help children . But what about those 15 million impoverished American children scattered all over the country, how can we help them? We need to invest in those children, in their future potential. How many brilliant engineers, scientists, talented artists, teachers and public servants could we be missing out on?

Investing in children is the right thing to do. They depend on us. You can't tell a hungry five-year-old to just go get a job, but we can help the 63% of working mothers find quality child care they can afford, so they can make more money, pay more taxes and lift their families out of poverty and dependency.

We can help single parents struggling to go to college with child care subsidies and free college tuition. We can increase opportunities and subsidies for housing so poor families don't see more than half their income go to rent or become homeless.

We can expand educational programs like Head Start and Early Head Start. Each of these programs will yield solid financial returns.

When you invest in a poor child, you do more than save a life.... you create an educated citizen that will return our public investment for years to come in productivity, in work and taxes, citizenship and a dignified life.

So, in a world where we are all connected, where the value of every child's life should be of equal importance to us all... we need to consider the one billion children whose lives are unfolding now and take action.

A financial transaction tax could be a game-changing tool for making it all happen.

Len Morris received the Iqbal Masih Award from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012 for his work to end the worst forms of child labor. He is the Director of The Same Heart, a documentary that proposes a financial transaction tax to raise revenues to invest in children.